White Awake opens with author Daniel Hill attending the wedding of his close friend, who asks some rather unsettling questions about his racial identity. Seeking answers, he read articles and books, listens to TED talks, and peppers a new mentor with questions. Rather than respond with verbal answers, his new mentor encourages him to reflect on the voices of influence in his life—those who shaped his thoughts and values. The rest of the instructions are as follows:
- Step 1: Comprehensively list all individuals of influence, focusing on four groups—close friends, mentors, preachers/teachers/theologians relied on for guidance, and authors of the books you read.
- Step 2: Note the cultural backgrounds represented.
Quickly realizing the majority of names belonged to white people, Hill calls the results his first epiphany:
"Just like all moments of genuine awakening, the discovery was both liberating and terrifying: liberating in the way truth always is, lifting you out of the fog and into the light, and terrifying because this revelation of truth demanded changes.”
Not long after, Hill read Divided Faith by Dr. Michael Emerson and noted the “hypersegration” in American churches—segregation levels so high that they defy statistical probabilities.
This, along with other revelations, inspired Hill to step away from his “white-centric world” to pursue a “more multicultural reality.” Today, Hill is the founding and senior pastor of River City Community Church, a multiethnic church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.
The rest of Hill’s book details his journey toward a better understanding of what it means to be white and the important role of reconciliation:
“The kingdom of God…shouts from the mountaintops that all human beings are created in the image of God and are therefore inherently valuable. It says that Jesus Christ has come to tear down the old visions of humanity that divide and to create in and through him ‘one new humanity’ (Ephesians 2:15). It says that we who are in Christ are new creations, armed with the vision of reconciliation and sent into the world bearing witness to God’s kingdom."
His book focuses on several areas such as denial, shame, and self-righteousness; however, the role of lament particularly stood out to me. It’s important to be active participants in seeking justice, but sometimes we are so quick to look for solutions when instead we should be lamenting:
“Lament is a beautiful and needed resource because it has a unique way of remaining awake to sorrow without succumbing to it. Lament allows us to grieve injustice but not fall into despair. We can be awake to the pain of the world but still press forward in faith because of another beautiful word at the center of the gospel: hope.”
Overall, I found White Awake to be a powerful reminder of the connection between living out my faith and seeking justice. It’s a quick read, though it may take a while to digest the contents. Small group discussion questions are included in an appendix.
(As a disclaimer, I received this book from Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.)
• Visit Daniel Hill’s blog: pastordanielhill.com
• Get White Awake from IVP books
• Read: Racial Reconciliation and the Importance of Listening